Rome is unique, not only in western but universal history: firstly because it was a city which conquered and administered a vast empire; secondly because that empire had an exceptionally long life; and lastly, because, identified with its empire by its very name, it set itself up as the Eternal City. The empire suffered territorial losses on such a scale that the Romans came to doubt the eternity of their imperium. With no emperor, and a population in decline, the city nevertheless continued to be generally regarded as the capital of the world, queen of the universe, mother of leaders and the metropolis of trophies. There was thus continuity between imperial and pontifical Rome. Although the expression ‘end of the Roman Empire’ can make sense, the ‘fall of Rome’ has no historical reality. Rome did not fall, but was transformed by keeping its special characteristic of mythical and historical capital.
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